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Hill Life & People

New media and press freedom caucus holds inaugural meeting

By Marco Vigliotti      

Veteran political strategist Rick Anderson joins the team at Earnscliffe.

MPs, Senators, and advocates attending the founding meeting of the new media and press caucus. Pictured, from left to right, Liberal Senator Joan Fraser, Conservative MP Peter Kent, Non-affiliated Senator André Pratte, activist Arnold Amber, ex-journalist turned advocate Gord McIntosh, Liberal Senator Jim Munson, Conservative Senator Linda Frum, Conservative MP Kerry Diotte, Liberal MP John McKay, Liberal Senator Terry Mercer, cartoonist Guy Badeaux, and journalist Susan Korah. Photo courtesy of the Twitter account of Kerry Diotte
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Parliamentarians from different parties, including several former journalists, gathered on Thursday for the inaugural meeting of a new caucus focusing on media and press freedom issues.

Conservative MP Kerry Diotte (Edmonton Griesbach, Alta.), himself a former journalist, wrote on Twitter last week that he’s “glad to be part of [the] inaugural meeting” of the all-party press and media freedom caucus.

His post included a photo of other MPs and Senators who attended the meeting, several of whom previously worked in the media, including Conservative MP Peter Kent (Thornhill, Ont.), Conservative Senator Linda Frum (Ontario), Independent Senator André Pratte (De Salaberry, Que.), and Liberal Senators Joan Fraser (De Lorimier, Que.) and Jim Munson (Ottawa/Rideau Canal, Ont.), who serves as chair of the caucus.

The Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom (CCWPF) and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) will be acting as resources for the caucus, with representatives from both organizations in attendance at the meeting and participating in discussions with Parliamentarians, according to Gord McIntosh, director of CCWPF.

Mr. McIntosh, who attended the meeting, said he was told by Sen. Munson that there were initially 25 RSVPs for the meeting but he received “a lot of last-minute cancellations,” a common occurrence on the bustling Hill.

He said he was invited to brief the caucus on why the CCWPF proposed its creation, with there being “universal consensus” that such a group is needed now more than ever.

Conservative Senator Claude Carignan (Mille Isles, Que.) tabled a Senate public bill last fall that seeks to protect journalistic sources, which has passed the Senate and is at second reading in the House.

The caucus, Mr. McIntosh said, is looking to hold its second meeting in June, at which time members will elect officers.

According to Mr. McIntosh, Sen. Pratte won seemingly universal agreement on his call for the caucus to be prepared to take firm positions on issues regardless of where the members’ parties stand.

He also said that Liberal Senator Terry Mercer (Northend Halifax, N.S.) expressed concern about media ownership after the Halifax Chronicle Herald purchased a huge number of newspapers in Nova Scotia in a deal with Transcontinental. The deal also includes a number of newspapers in the other Atlantic provinces.

The journalists-turned-Hillites in attendance all held prominent and highly visible positions in the media landscape before entering public office.

Before jumping into politics, Mr. Kent was a prominent broadcast journalist, serving in high-profile positions for the CBC, NBC, and Global, as well as other outlets.

Sen. Frum is an author, editor, and columnist, who has worked for Maclean’s magazine and the National Post. She was appointed to the Senate in 2009.

Sen. Pratte is the former editor-in-chief of major daily Montreal newspaper, La Presse. He served in that role from 2001 to 2015. He was appointed to the Senate in 2016.

Sen. Fraser, who was appointed to the Senate in 1998, is a former editor-in-chief of the Montreal English daily The Gazette. She also previously served as the Montreal bureau chief for the now-defunct Financial Times of Canada.

Meanwhile, Sen. Munson is a former broadcast journalist who worked as a correspondent in Ottawa, London, and Beijing, and elsewhere. He also covered the Gulf War in the early 1990s.

After leaving journalism, he became then-prime minister Jean Chrétien‘s director of communications. In 2003, he was appointed by Mr. Chrétien to the Senate.

“Some fine ex-journalists aboard,” Mr. Diotte wrote on Twitter of the caucus.

For decades, Mr. Diotte worked as a journalist for the Edmonton Sun, where he served in a variety roles, including as the paper’s provincial legislature reporter.

Mr. Diotte was at the centre of a freedom of the press scandal in 2004, after Edmonton police targeted Mr. Diotte, then a columnist with the Sun, and Martin Ignasiak, chairman of the Edmonton Police Commission, in an unsuccessful sting operation intended to nab them for drunk driving—though neither men drove drunk that night. Police radio transcripts from that night, published by the Edmonton Journal, show that the officers hoped to catch Mr. Diotte as payback for columns he had written that were critical of the police force. Both the Edmonton Police Commission and Alberta solicitor-general were harshly critical of the attempted sting, and police chief Fred Rayner was later fired, the Globe and Mail reported.

Mr. Diotte unsuccessfully sought election as mayor of Edmonton in 2013 before winning the nomination for the federal Conservatives in the new riding of Edmonton Griesbach for the 2015 election. He won the general election in a close race.

Liberal MP John McKay (Scarborough-Guildwood, Ont.) was also in attendance at the founding meeting of the caucus.

Senator Meredith quitting amid controversy

Embattled Independent Senator Don Meredith has decided to resign his seat in the Upper Chamber.
He announced his departure in a letter to his Senate colleagues released Tuesday afternoon, though it has yet to be made formal.

The move comes a week after the Senate Ethics Committee recommended his expulsion from the Upper Chamber because of an inappropriate relationship with a teenaged girl.

“After consulting with my family, community leaders, and my counsel over the past several weeks, I have decided to move forward with my life with the full support of my wife and children,” he wrote in a letter to his colleagues, as reported by multiple news outlets.

Anderson picked up by lobby shop

Veteran political strategist Rick Anderson has jumped ship to Earnscliffe.

Mr. Anderson, who previously worked for the federal Liberal Party and the then-fledgling Reform Party, joins the lobbying outfit as a principal, Earnscliffe announced on Thursday.

A high-profile political commentator, Mr. Anderson has enjoyed a varied career in politics and business.

Veteran political strategist Rick Anderson has joined Earnscliffe. Hill Times file photo

He has worked on a multitude of prominent political campaigns, including the federal Liberals’ 1979 election campaign, where the party was led by then-prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

He also worked on leadership campaigns for one-time Liberal prime ministers John Turner and Paul Martin, and directed national campaigns for the now-defunct Reform Party under the leadership of Preston Manning.

He was also an adviser to the United Nations International Mission for Iraqi Elections.

In the private sector, Mr. Anderson participated in the founding of Zip.ca, a now-defunct online video rental service, spending four years as its president and CEO, and has worked for several high-profile communications and lobbying firms.

Mr. Anderson has frequently appeared on political panel shows, most notably on CTV and CBC.

Liberal MP raises complaint about absence of indigenous language translation in Parliament

Liberal MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette (Winnipeg Centre, Man.) was greeted with cheers from his colleagues after he rose to speak in the House on Thursday.

But chances are, most didn’t even understand what he had just said.

That’s because Mr. Ouellette, an outspoken first-term MP, recited his short member’s statement in Cree, and the House doesn’t provide translation services for languages other than French and English.

Liberal MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette, right, expressed frustration with the absence of translation services in the House for indigenous languages after reciting a member’s statement in Cree last week. He is pictured with Assembly of First Nations Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

An English translation he provided later to the House revealed the statement touched upon two recent violent events in the Canadian Prairies in which Mr. Ouellette said young indigenous women were killed or severely hurt, and called for additional legal protections to thwart similar occurrences.

“These events occurred while people stood by and recorded these incidents,” he said, according to the English translation.

“The freedom of the violence calls into question our own humanity.”

Shortly after he delivered his statement, Mr. Ouellette, alongside Assembly of First Nations Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day, addressed the media outside the House to provide a translated copy of his statement and explain the motivation behind it, but the MP also expressed his frustration with the lack of translation services for indigenous languages.

“Unfortunately the translators couldn’t or wouldn’t, according to the rules of Parliament, translate one of our indigenous languages, which I still believe should be an official language of this country,” he told reporters.

In the House, sometime after the member’s statement was read, Conservative MP Ted Falk (Provencher, Man.) rose on a point of privilege to ask that MPs planning on reciting statements in languages not covered by translators provide translated copies in advance to parliamentary interpreters to ensure fellow members “would be able to enjoy the content of their statement and also provide the appropriate support and response.”

Responding to Mr. Falk, House Speaker Geoff Regan (Halifax West, N.S.) said providing pre-translated passages “has been the practice.”

“I encourage members, if they are going to speak in a different language from the two official languages, to provide copies of the translation of those statements to the interpreters so that we can all be aware of what they are saying,” he added.


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